Playing with the unexpected

In Conversation with Barbara Vanderlinden and Kalliopi Tsipni-Kolaza

What made Kalliopi’s proposal stand out from the rest?

Barbara: In the case of Kalliopi’s project proposal, it was definitely the fact that she touches on some underdeveloped aspects of curating, those being sound in relation to space and auditory culture in general. To me, it feels like this is one of the areas in curating – but in art criticism as well – that has a little bit lagged behind in terms of how to critically understand sound as a material or medium. And in Kalliopi’s proposition, I saw that there was a straightforward interest in the medium of sound and its relation to curating, as well as a general interest in our critical thinking about sound in society; be it a political, social or geographical agenda. I felt that she developed a curatorial proposal and research that expanded curatorial practice, and that was my first reason for choosing Kalliopi.

How does working as a curator differ from working in other disciplines?

Kalliopi: I think curating is a discipline which is a bit more complicated than anything else, because your work depends on other people’s work and ideas. It is based on a model of exchange. But then again, I find it much harder to pin things down on my own, and I prefer to be in dialogue with people. In terms of the other mentees participating at Forecast, I have this idea of them being independent creators. The photographer is an author of his or her work, also the architects and filmmakers, whereas with curating, it is a bit more complex because you are working towards something with other people, and a lot of things are contained in the process itself.

Barbara: The word “curate”, once rarely spoken outside exhibitions or museum contexts, is a bit overused now: It is now pasted onto any activity that involves culling and selecting. These may indeed involve aspects of curating; however, to me it always involves a very particular work with an artist. But the difference with a curator, as a producer, that is a practice directly linked to the production of art and exhibitions. The idea is not to select and arrange objects, but a way of working with ideas, working closely with artists and producing new exhibition models. Even if the notion of selecting and arranging is very important, you are first and foremost working with living artists, materials and ideas, changing the details of the subject, developing artworks, and making transformations during the curating process. That is why I chose Kalliopi’s curatorial proposition. She does not operate as an observer, a descriptive author or critic; Kalliopi’s position as a producer-curator affords her to collaborate artistically with the artists.

Kalliopi: Exactly. What is nice for me in the discipline of curating is that you don’t have control over what is happening all the time. You can have some control up to a certain point, but then other people bring things up, and you just have to play around, and something unexpected might happen, which is of interest to me.

Barbara: On the one hand, you take some distance, and you look what people bring to the fore. But on the other hand, you enter into the process of creation itself, as a producer. You are dialoging with the artists, like about what a work could be or how the presentation of a work might affect the idea or the work itself. If we accept that the curator is an integral part of contemporary art production, then we can assume that curators are collaborators in how art relates  to the public, the social, the political and other spheres of society. I think it is important to stress this collaborative and creative aspect of curating, especially now that “curating” has become a term that seemingly could refer to anything in its capacity of selecting, archiving, and presenting, to make choices and present them. These are certainly methods that traditional curating has in common with many other disciplines. All of these forms describe processes that are extremely relevant in relation to the increased information complexity we are facing today. However, this is different from what I think the figure of a curator-producer is. He/she is more like a film producer, in the sense that you are involved in the development and creation of a work that involves collaboration between different artists and disciplines.

How do you work together, what was your practice like?

Barbara: I would say that I bring my experience and reflections into the process. And Kalliopi brings hers. I don’t understand mentoring as teaching, where you bring some information to the fore, it is rather a process of sharing experiences with somebody you consider a colleague and participant in the conversation. I really believe in the concept of mentoring. Because it is a form of teaching where you navigate real-world tensions.

Kalliopi: Exactly. This is the difference with Forecast. Of course, Barbara is much more experienced than me. For me, it was the second independent project I have ever done so far. But I felt that we were having and equal conversation, and I was free to share my thoughts without any fear of intimidation. In traditional education, you don’t get the opportunity to develop such a close relationship with mentors and supervisors. The access to something like that is really rare, and Forecast is great for doing that.

How did you become interested in the relation between sound and space for your exhibition at Forecast?

Kalliopi: Being a former musician, I was always interested in music and sound based works. How sounds affect our perception of space and their relation with culture in general are things I am increasingly curious about. Sounds have the particular quality of moving across time and space and reverberating through bodies, and that was something I always wanted to explore further.

But when it comes to exhibition making and thinking, the interest always starts from the artist’s work itself. Discovering Joe Namy’s work was really a starting point and I think that he has thought about this relationship in a very clever way, and his body of work is very relevant. His work and investigation into the art of sampling and his collection of assorted samples and clips from ten other artists was the beginning of our conversation. The same goes for his Concrete Sampling project, where he worked with a crew of workers at an excavation/construction site in downtown Beirut for the production of an on-site performance, where the acoustics of the space directly informed the work.

Barbara: For me, it was the fact that Kalliopi was investigating the relationship between sound and political, geographical and physical environments. In the field of curating, we are working with open systems of materials and disciplines. We work with places as “sites of experience”, so the investigation into the relation between the exhibition and works of art that engage with acoustic environments is interesting. Both are not only about visual observation, it is not only about formal things or materials, but very much about experience. Within that field, it seems to me that the medium of sound is the freest form, an energy that is dissipated within a medium as sound and can travel through any material, it can be an object itself. It is something that affects us materially, physically and emotionally. So, I always felt that it is strange that the use of sound as a medium hasn’t been explored that often from a curatorial point of view. Or people were trying to objectify for a long time, in what was called sound art. These days, especially, when the notion of flux and open systems is so important, then there is one medium that fits that specific nature, and that is sound.

Here you can find more Information about Kalliopi Tsipni-Kolaza’s project Sonic Revolutions: Vibrations from the Levant.